Dalvin Cook Notices Big Change in Kirk Cousins Under New Vikings Coach

Kirk Cousins

Getty Vikings running back Dalvin Cook sees a change in quarterback Kirk Cousins under first-year coach Kevin O'Connell

Something’s brewing in Minnesota.

National NFL reporters are pouring in from across the country to Minnesota Vikings training camp and feel something different in the air.

FOX NFL Sunday’s Jay Glazer visited TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minnesota, on August 6, breathing in the changes coming to a new era for the Vikings that starts with first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell.

“I think this is one of those teams that makes a huge jump this year,”  Glazer said in a Twitter video. “If anybody can give you confidence and get their quarterback to calm down and loosen up a little bit, it’s going to be Kevin O’Connell, so I think he’s going to be huge for Kirk Cousins. I love their skills players, the running back and two receivers, with [Adam] Thielen and [Justin] Jefferson and Dalvin Cook. I think this team is going to surprise some people this year. I like what the Vikings got going on.”

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Glazer isn’t the first to pick up on the new culture in Minnesota. The players have bought in for months and beginning to put together the pieces of a new identity for the team.

Part of that identity will be an evolved offense with Cousins, who has undergone a noticeable change with O’Connell in Dalvin Cook‘s eyes.

‘You See How Comfortable He Is’

Vikings RB Dalvin Cook Talks Kevin O’Connell, Kirk Cousins & More with Rich Eisen | Full InterviewVikings RB Dalvin Cook tells Rich Eisen how Minnesota’s offense will look under rookie head coach Kevin O’Connell who’s a Sean McVay disciple, says why he’s excited to see what his brother James Cook will do in the NFL after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills, and weighs in on the ‘is cereal soup’ debate.…2022-08-03T00:30:11Z

Appearing on The Rich Eisen Show on August 3, Cook detailed some of the changes he’s seen in Cousins with O’Connell at the helm of the team.

“I’ve seen [Cousins] grow every year, but you see how comfortable he is with [Kevin O’Connell] from day one,” Cook said. “You see the relationship between those guys, and that’s what we needed.”

Since the Vikings fired Mike Zimmer, stories about the contentious relationship between the former coach and his quarterback have continued to leak. It’s become plain and simple in hindsight: Zimmer did not like Cousins — and that tension contributed to the team’s clouded potential over the past two seasons.

But bringing in O’Connell, a former NFL quarterback who was also Cousins’ offensive coordinator in Washington, has brought an opposite player-coach dynamic with a Cousins-friendly coach building an offense built for the Vikings quarterback.

“We needed that for our guy back there because Kirk can sling that rock. He can take us where we want to go, and we firmly believe that as a group and as a team. So having [Kevin O’Connell] come in and be that security blanket to help take us to the next level, I think that’s going to be good for Kirk and our team.”

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How O’Connell Can Unlock Another Level in Cousins

The verdict is out on Cousins who is entering his 11th season in the NFL. He is a quarterback who is the sum of his parts. He hasn’t made a living from scrambling and creating second-chance opportunities outside of the pocket.

But he is an elite first-read thrower in the league, ranking fifth in Pro Football Focus’ 2021 Quarterback Annual with a 0.26 expected points added (EPA) per play on first-read throws, well above the league average of 0.07 EPA. His accuracy and arm strength have helped him emerge as one of the league’s best passers on first-read situations, especially on play-action passes.

The fault in Cousins is that he’s become risk-averse throughout his career. His desire to avoid the tight-window throws at times leads him to progress and take what the defense gives him. This isn’t a bad quality in isolation, but across the span of a season, it leads to a reputation of playing too conservative.

When Cousins was stuck with the reputation of a conservation quarterback may be difficult to pinpoint, but it’s something he was aware of when O’Connell was his offensive coordinator in 2017.

O’Connell’s task this time around is to create a diverse offense that can run numerous plays out of the same formation, taking advantage of mismatches with the Vikings’ arsenal of skill players where Cousins can feel more confident in making the aggressive throw with arguably the most talented skill players he’s had around him.

It’s a cerebral position that takes hundreds of reps to unlearn and relearn a new philosophy — but Cousins appears to be taking steps in O’Connell’s direction.

“I remember a concept we had in OTAs in practice, I said no to a route over here and threw a route over here,” Cousins said in a July 28 press conference. “And afterwards (O’Connell) said, ‘Hey I want you to take that with that look. Don’t progress.’ And prior to him saying that I would’ve progressed every time. I said, OK, and we probably ran that play a half dozen times again in the spring and when we got that look I was going to take that option. It’s important to understand what he wants and not just play to, ‘Well I’ve done this before so I’ll just do this again.’ It’s more of a, ‘How do you want it to look? Let me execute that way.’ But that takes time to learn.”

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